Today I decided to see Transcendence, despite Wired actually canning it – Transcendence: A Movie Too Terrible to Even Hate-Watch. In my opinion, that’s being way too harsh. Of course the movie could of been better, but it could of been way, way worse.
I won’t give any spoilers, but it’s basically a movie where Depp ‘Transcends’ in to a computer, a-la Kurzweils singularity. This bit is quite cleverly done as there’s a conceptual twist that is so obvious yet rarely mentioned in singularity literature.
Things go pretty well, as they do when you have a brain the size of a planet, but of course we can’t leave it there. With people involved we know there will be twists, and there are. I thought the ending was quite brilliant and romantic, even if a bit Hollywood which is to be expected as it’s a big budget film. With a cast of Depp, Rebecca Hall, Freeman, Paul Bettant and great supporting cast there’s no problem with the acting. The special effects are great to illustrate what a giant Quantum computer and associated peripherals may look like.
If you’re in to computers, AI and the like I’d rate it 4/5 – it’s as least as good as the brilliant British movie “The Machine” which takes a different spin. If you’re not in to computers and AI then it may be a 3/5 – not wasted time, but you could wait until an online/DVD release.
PS If you’re in UK, you may want to go elsewhere than Cineworld as they didn’t turn off the lights during the movie and have terrible “customer service”
PPS To end on a positive note, this is my first (of I’m sure many) posts using the absolutely brilliant BlogPad Pro App on my iPad. It actually makes it possible to use your iPad for blogging and at £3 is a no-brainer
Firstly, I must admit I’m a bit of a Kurzweil Fan. Not in a groupie kind of way, but more in a way that I’m an optimist who believes in technology, and so is he. So as soon as I found out that he’d written a new book (which was about a day after it was released) I ordered it. Then on Monday I had and started reading… I’m not a speed reader and have no intent to even try on this book, so it will probably take me until the weekend or beyond to finish it (I also have a life that doesn’t involve computers & books ;). I therefore thought I’d to an Agile / Iterative / Incremental / Progressive review. I won’t publish every day, but every few until I’m done (and I may slow down near the end as I suspect it’s one of those books that builds up as it goes).
My plan is to go by the chapters I’ve read, then summarise / comment and probably go back over the whole thing and refactor in to a “Gold Release”.
Before we get in to my review, for a counterpoint, you may want to check out The New Yorker’s “Trendy, Dubious, Sarcastic” Review (just my opinion ;) entitled Ray Kurzweil’s Dubious New Theory of Mind. It seems to be not just me that has this opinion though as one of the Anonymous comments best sums up reasoned (to me) opinion:
This is a very poor excuse for a review. It misses so many points that it appears to be constructed for the purpose of allowing Gary Marcus to pose as a smug intellectual superior to Ray Kurzweil, and the ad hominum crap in the comment section only confirm my dismay at how thoroughly personal psychology trumps reasonable thought. Demeaning Kurzweil’s understanding may get you off, but it’s clear to this reader that this book is filled with interesting information and insights, and is a valuable contribution to the intellectual life of anyone interested in these matters.
I mean, who knows who Gary Marcus is and what has he done (other than write a seemingly vengeful review) in the bigger picture vs Ray Kurzweil?
Anyway, on to the good stuff – the review!
As I mentioned, I’m quite familiar with Kurzweil and the history of science, so in this light I was personally a bit “disappointed” by Chapter 1 “Thought experiments on the world” and Chapter 2 “Thought experiments on thinking” as I already knew most of this and therefore skimmed quite a bit. I can understand why it’s there though as this is an “enthusiastic layperson” book and he has to give some background. For me, Chapter 3 “A model of the neorcortex: The pattern recognition theory of the mind” is where the book really starts – it’s a great introduction to Kurzweil’s theories and obviously a basis for the whole book that will be expanded on. It talks about his theory that the brain operates as a hierarchy of pattern recognisers with some illustrations. Part of this theory is that the brain works in one-dimensional lists – what a mind blower, as this is the basis for Lisp which was invented by John McCarthy. There is much reference to his earlier work, such as the “Book reading machine for the blind” and the “Kurzweil Synthesiser” (which I’d buy if I was loaded) that shows this is the track he’s been on all along and is finally realising it…
Now we start to get down and dirty and gooey as Kurzweil starts off in Chapter 4 covering “The Biological Neocortex”. This was really interesting to me as my knowledge of the brain and it’s various areas is quite basic. He also refers to the recent NIH study of the brain and had the same thought as me – it looks like a crossbar switch! Are we inherently creating brains in our technology? The next Chapter 5 covers “The Old Brain” where Kurzweil contends the Neocortex has taken over much or at least severely enhanced many Old Brain functions. Hormones are given pretty short shrift though – maybe Richard Berglund, author of Fabric of the Mind may disagree. Only time and experimentation will tell. This is all pretty much wrapped up in Chapter 6 “Transcendent Abilities” which covers Love and Aptitude that touches on nature vs nurture but kind of neatly sidesteps the whole issue.
Having set the biological background in the previous chapters, Kurzweil now moves on to the question of “how do we build one of these brain thingies”, starting with Chapter 7 “The Biologically Inspired Digital Neurocortex” which starts off talking about brain simulations, gives us some more background on his original research and outlines Vector Quantisation that is a technique that provides a compressed way to capture learning. He also outlines Hidden Markov Models which seem to have a similarity to the brains functions. There’s also mention of LISP, which also works in 1-D lists – coincidence or reflection of our structure? After all that theory, there’s a nice general discussion about out current efforts in machine intelligence, such as Watson which leads nicely in to Chapter 8 “The Mind as Computer” that gives a compressed history of the original development of computers. My only criticism is that like most Americans he overlooks Turing in preference to von Neumann with regards to implementing a fundamental computer architecture. There is one thing I didn’t know here, which is that von Neumann wrote near the end of his life about neural processing and even tried to estimate the amount of computing needed – these estimates still hold today!
We’ll start with a legend, Ray Kurzweil talking at the most recent Demo Conference
I know there’s a lot of debate around Kurzweil and the whole Singularity Concept, but you have to give him credit for actually working towards this, as will be outlined in his upcoming book (which he mentions) How the Mind Works and How to Build One. I’ll certainly be buying a copy when it comes out!
Speaking of self-organising systems, I just watched a fantastic TED talk on The self-organizing computer course
Which touches on something I’ve always believed, which is that in order to really understand computing, people need some deep knowledge. I was lucky in that I have a double degree in Computer Science and Instrumental Science (which is basically a stripped down engineering course) and grew up in an era when you had to build your own computer! Ever heard of the Sinclair Mk 14, Mini-Scamp or EDUC-8? Amazingly, Simon Shocken gets students to build a whole computer in one semester!!! You can find out more at http://www.nand2tetris.org/
Another great TED video on The currency of the new economy is trust
that mentions AirBnB and a very interesting service called TaskRabbit. Also related is a great report Social Currency 2012 Report, that was highlighted by @JenniferSertl which shows that there is real momentum building behind companies doing real social media engagement. And no, having a Twitter and Facebook account isn’t sufficient!
Finally, if you’re in to Clojure, then you should probably check out the video by Arthur Edelstein about Clooj, a great little IDE written in Clojure
It’s amazing to think this guy does all this in his spare time! Personally, I’m not an “emacs guy”, just because I never got in to it, and therefore use Clooj. The second half has a great demo of a new feature that enables you to find and integrate shared code in to Clooj – think of them as micro-libraries.
So as I’ve been tweeting a bit, there was a #RasPiThon this weekend. For me, it was at first a bit of a curiosity as I’ve got one and wondered what it was all about. The bit that got me totally hooked though, was the interactivity of it all – both between the coders (of which there were about 4 – find out more about them at Raspithon – 48 hours of Python) and their “audience” (in the chat window). And the fact that it was “just” a bunch of kids between 12 and 16! When you here about something like this, you assume it’s at least a bunch of 20-somethings or maybe even some “old codgers” like me getting together… Then it hit me! In 5-10 years, these “kids” will be the programmers working on systems I’ll be architecting – how cool!
It struck me as quite funny that so many in the “Agile community” and many other people are debating about pair programming… Strangely enough, these kids haven’t been listening to that or going to “the right conferences” and taken it to the next level of what @JenniferSertl calls “social coding”. How spot on!
Imagine this in a corporation, with a live stream of the developers, chatting by voice, then the “product owners” chatting in a window (you have to limit their bandwidth somehow ;) seeing the software develop in real time! Getting a bit boring? Go away and come back later…
Oh – and how do you get the code? That’s on GitHub: RasPiThon. OK, so in a corporate context, you’d have a corporate GitHub, but you get the picture – just “corporatise” the toolset they’re using, or maybe not…
Part way through the whole marathon, they were DOS’d – Raspithon continues: live feed undaunted by DDoS attacks – BTW Major -ve Karma to whoever did that. The interesting thing was how “the group” then re-oriented themselves to solve this (it was after all the key part of their “value chain” :), eventually finding another host and updating their DNS record – oh for this sort of swift response in a corporate context… No “website is down” form submissions or SLA’s – they just solved it! Back to the coding then, which did result in a complete game:
If you looked at this whole thing from a process point of view in the context of The Marshall Model, these guys were drifting between Synergistic and Chaordic! And yet again, I bet you they’ve never ready any of Bob’s work (although I suspect they will one day :) It was just natural for them.
So what are the lessons for us to learn? If you want to see the “future”, then just check out what the “kids” are doing… If it freaks you out, you’d better get used to it as they’re coming whether you like it or not :-) As @flowchainsensei and others have tweeted, the end of the “pure manager” is coming, so you’d better get engaged wherever you are and start doing something productive, wrap you’re head around the “social context” which is coming (although that’s probably redundant if you’re reading this) as what we are seeing in activities like this really is the “target process state” of things.
I’ll leave the last word however to lozlesndstuff (who you’ll probably work with one day), that I think indicates what this (and RaspberryPi) was really all about:
lozlesndstuff: This is awesome, inspired me to learn more about coding